6 Chaga Mushroom Benefits for Wellness

Mushrooms are a delicious addition to many meals but they aren’t only touted for flavor. Chaga mushroom has been used for centuries in Russia, Northern Europe, and Asia to help improve wellness. The dark, woody-appearing fungus is mostly found on the back of birch bark in cold-climates. Typically ground in powder and consumed as a tea or in capsules, chaga has been growing in popularity in Western culture especially among health-conscious consumers.

Rich in antioxidants, chaga is considered a nutrient-dense superfood with many unique properties. What are some of the top chaga mushroom benefits? Read on to find out.

Chaga Boosts Immune System Function

With more people concerned about spreading viruses than ever before, chaga has become an important tool for many with regards to increasing immunity. Chaga has the ability to promote the creation of beneficial cytokines within white blood cells, which are essential for battling infection. As the first line of defense against illness, increasing their presence is a great way to stay healthy. Chaga is also chock full of antioxidants known to promote immune system function.

Chaga Could Help Fight Inflammation

In addition to assisting with the growth of “good” cytokines, chaga also helps stop production of harmful cytokines that cause inflammation. This is thanks to the compounds betulinic acid, inotodial, and estrogel peroxide all found within chaga. By regulating cytokines within the body, the mushroom is often recommended for people struggling with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune disorders.

Chaga May Lower Cholesterol

Cardiovascular disease continues to be a serious and widespread condition, especially in the United States. Fortunately, research suggests that chaga may assist in battling both. One eight-week study saw chaga reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol as well as overall cholesterol and triglycerides in mice. Subsequent research suggested the mushroom could also increase “good” cholesterol levels. Scientists theorize the presence of antioxidants are behind the mushroom’s effects on these levels.

Chaga Also Helps Reduce Blood Sugar

Chaga has also shown promise in fighting diabetes. In a study involving obese mice, the mushroom had more success in lowering blood sugar and insulin resistance compared with mice who did not receive the compound. Another study showed a chaga leading to a 31% decrease in blood sugar over a three-week period in mice. While further testing needs to be completed to determine chaga’s efficacy in helping humans with diabetes, the preliminary results are promising.

Chaga May Prevent and Treat Cancer

There are many anti-cancer compounds found in the natural world. This mushroom has long been considered a powerful tool against tumor activity, so much so that it’s referred to as “kreftkjuke” in Norway, which literally translates to “cancer fungus.” There has been a decent amount of research into chaga’s abilities in this realm, at least in mice. One such study saw chaga supplements reduce tumor size by 60%.  Test tube studies have revealed similar results in human cells, preventing the growth of cancer in several types of human tissue.

Chaga Promotes Liver Function

Chaga has also shown promise as a treatment for certain liver conditions. A 2015 Korean study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms revealed an extract made from the fungus protects liver tissue from damage caused by oxidation particularly from alcohol or certain drugs. Additionally, the outer layer of chaga contains high amounts of sclerotium, an antioxidant praised for its liver-protectant abilities. 

Chaga Health Benefits — Something for Everyone

As more attention is paid to the multitude of wellness abilities of mushrooms, there will certainly be more research conducted into how they interact with the human body. While current studies remain somewhat limited, the results are indeed fascinating especially as society shifts toward an increased demand for natural alternatives to Western medicine. 

Chaga specifically has long been used for wellness purposes in Northern Europe and parts of Asia but has only recently grown in popularity in North America. Touted for its potential benefits throughout the body (from boosting immune system function to fighting cancer), this fungus is rich in free radical preventing antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals perfect for meeting a variety of health goals. While the mushroom has been trusted by homeopathic professionals for centuries, it’s always a good idea to discuss its use with a primary care physician prior to beginning a regimen. If given the clear, chaga could become an integral part of your daily health practice.

4 Fascinating Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

Lion’s Mane or Hericium erinaceus is an edible mushroom that can be identified by its white color, globe shape, and long dangling spines. It’s most often consumed in dietary supplements for its potentially beneficial properties or in gourmet dishes where the fruiting body is utilized for its lobster-like flavor. 

While more high-quality clinical research into Lion’s Mane is still needed, animal studies and some clinical data suggest it may offer a trove of benefits for heart health, reduced inflammation, and improved cognitive function, among others. Learn more about the latest findings and ways in which these fungi may impact your health with our list of the four biggest Lion’s Mane benefits.

Brain Health

Lion’s Mane mushrooms contain hericenones and erinacines, two compounds known for their neurotrophic properties. A study published in 2013 found that these two compounds, when isolated from the medicinal mushroom Hericium erinaceus, were shown to induce nerve growth factor synthesis in nerve cells. 

The implications of these findings could lead to more research for Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients who could benefit greatly from a natural method to promote growth and form new connections in the brain. In animal studies using behavioral pharmacological methods including the Y-maze test and the novel-object recognition test, mane mushroom extracts were shown to prevent impairments of spatial short-term and visual recognition memory.

Digestive Health

Stomach ulcers affect 4.6 million Americans annually, with H pylori infections accounting for 70-90 percent of gastric ulcers and 90 percent of duodenal ulcers. While Lion’s Mane has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat chronic superficial gastritis, we still don’t completely understand the pharmaceutical mechanism behind its effects. However, in laboratory studies, researchers have determined that Lion’s Mane ethanol extracts are able to prevent the growth of H pylori, a bacterium that’s especially adept at penetrating the stomach’s mucous lining to establish an infection.

In an animal study published in 2017 involving rats, researchers suggest that the fungi can be applied as a protective agent in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome thanks to its ability to promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and improve the host’s immunity.

Heart Health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women, affecting most racial and ethnic groups in America. While there are many factors that contribute to poor heart health, obesity and atherosclerosis are especially damaging. 

One study involving mice found that including Hericium erinaceus extract with a high-fat diet over 28 days improved lipid metabolism resulting in a significant decrease in body weight gain, fat weight, and serum and hepatic triacylglycerol levels. On average, weight gain was 42 percent lower in the Lion’s Mane treated mice than in the control group.

In a 2014 study investigating the build-up of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in the artery, walls, researchers concluded that Lion’s Mane “possesses prowess” for preventing low-density lipoprotein — something that’s been strongly suggested as the key factor in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Their findings could help medical researchers in preventing oxidative stress-induced atherosclerotic pathogenesis, a significant step for the millions of people suffering from cardiovascular complications and strokes.

Mental Health

In 2020, researchers at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Biomedical Sciences critically reviewed the existing pre-clinical data and limited clinical trials on the Therapeutic Potential of Hericium erinaceus for Depressive Disorder. 

  • A 2010 clinical study exploring the effects of Lion’s Mane for menopause, depression, and sleep quality in women showed promising results. Participants ingested cookies containing 0.5 g of fruit body powder for four weeks and reported the treatment alleviated symptoms of anxiety, depression, frustration, and palpitation.
  • A 2019 clinical study examined the effects of H. erinaceus on anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and sleep issues with 77 overweight or obese subjects. Participants ingested three capsules containing 80 percent mycelium extract and 20 percent fruiting body extract daily for two months. Researchers found. They concluded that Lion’s Mane “significantly reduced depression and anxiety,” with participants also reporting improvement on sleep disorders after the eight-week regime.  

Based on current findings, researchers at the University of Hong Kong were able to conclude that “H. erinaceus significantly ameliorates depressive disorder through monoaminergic modulation, neurogenic/neurotrophic, and anti-inflammatory pathways, indicating the potential role of H. erinaceus as a complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of depression.” While the research noted is far from conclusive, it does serve as a strong indicator that Lion’s Mane may be a viable option for alleviating the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Lion’s Mane Benefits — Final Thoughts

While high-quality clinical studies on Lion’s Mane are still lacking, the results from what’s been published so far certainly warrant more rigorous research. In order for the health benefits and side effects of Hericium erinaceus to become fully understood, we need robust clinical trials and approval by agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Always seek medical advice from a licensed healthcare provider before making any changes to your health regime. 

Understanding Lion's Mane Effects on the Brain

Understanding Lion’s Mane Effects on the Brain

Lion’s Mane or Hericium erinaceus mushrooms have a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine to treat, cure, or prevent digestive issues. However, recent research into the fungi’s bioactive compounds is demonstrating great potential for preventing and treating brain and nerve health-related issues. While this early research is still very limited, it’s making the popular culinary mushroom with seafood-like flavor a strong candidate in promoting positive brain and nerve health-related activities.

Does Lion’s Mane Effect the Brain?

Lion’s Mane is believed to affect the brain’s nerve cells through its ability to induce the nerve growth factor (NFG). As the name implies, NFG plays a role in the growth, maintenance, proliferation, and survival of nerve cells or neurons — and your brain has approximately 80 billion nerve cells.

In fact, Lion’s Mane mushrooms and extracts have demonstrated the ability to reduce symptoms of memory loss in animal studies as well as prevent the neural damage caused by amyloid-beta plaques, which are known to accumulate in the brains of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2009, researchers investigated the brain health of Japanese men and women with ages ranging from 50-80 who’ve been diagnosed with mild cognitive impartment. Half of the 30 participants were given four 250 mg tablets containing 96 percent Lion’s Mane mushroom dry powder three times a day for 16 weeks and observed for four more weeks. The published study found that the Lion’s Mane group showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group, with no adverse side effects. The findings of this relatively small study show that Lion’s Mane was effective in improving mild cognitive impairment.

To date, most of our research has been limited to animal studies and test tubes in laboratory settings. While the findings are promising, we certainly need more research before we definitely claim that Hericium erinaceus is an appropriate treatment for brain health-related issues.

What Makes Lion’s Mane Unique?

To understand how Hericium erinaceus may be used as a preventative measure or to help treat patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, researchers have been focusing on the fungi’s unique biologically active compounds, specifically, hericenones and erinacines — two natural substances isolated from Hericium erinaceus. To date, only erinacine A has confirmed pharmacological actions in the central nervous system in rats, but it has been shown potent stimulating activity of nerve growth factor synthesis in laboratory settings.

In a study published in 2014, researchers investigated whether Hericium erinaceus and isolated Erinacine A could function as an anti-inflammatory with neuroprotective properties for stroke victims. High doses of Lion’s Mane extract were given to rats immediately after a stroke, successfully reducing the inflammation and size of their stroke-related brain injuries by 44 percent. The study was able to conclude that the treatment does offer neuroprotective effects after ischemic brain injury, scavenge free radicals, and inhibit inflammation. These findings paint Lion’s Mane as a promising agent to help with neuroprotection, which may reduce ischemic brain damage.

Potential Side Effects

While there are no human studies that have examined the side effects of Lion’s Mane mushrooms or extracts, they are available for sale in their natural form at many grocery stores for cooking or health food retailers in dietary supplement form. If you’re sensitive or allergic to other mushrooms, you should avoid Lion’s Mane, as there have been documented cases of breathing difficulty and skin rashes after exposure to the product — both of which are likely related to an allergic reaction.

In a 2016 animal study using rats to evaluate the potentially toxic effects of the extract when orally administered, researchers concluded that “ that oral administration of HEAE is safe up to 1000mg/kg and H. erinaceus consumption is relatively non-toxic.”

Lion’s Mane Benefits — Final Thoughts

High-quality clinical studies to investigate how Lion’s Mane mushrooms, Hericium erinaceus extracts, or isolated compounds such as erinacine A may affect the human brain are still needed, but the published results from limited animal studies and in vitro experiments are very promising. As with any changes to your diet or wellness regimen, it’s always a good idea to seek advice from a licensed medical provider. But for aging patients whose brains struggle to maintain or form new connections, the future may one day become much better thanks to the natural ingredients contained in this fascinating fungi.